By Alex Kingsbury
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
February 12, 2001
Hotly debated Cabinet members John Ashcroft and Gail Norton are settling into to their new positions this week, less than two weeks after their Senate confirmations.
The Senate cleared the way for Ashcroft as attorney general on Jan. 31 and for Norton as secretary of the Interior on Feb. 1.
Ashcroft, a hero to the conservative right, was confirmed by a vote of 58-42. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas swore in Ashcroft last Thursday after the most contested Senate vote for attorney general in 76 years.
Voting 75-24, the Senate confirmed Norton, whose record drew sharp criticism from environmentalists.
Ashcroft promised last week to “reinvigorate” the war on drugs and to stop discrimination when he encounters it.
Speaking in an interview for the first time since his appointment, Ashcroft told CNN’s Larry King Wednesday that gun violence and drugs are top priorities.
Ashcroft still faces stern scrutiny from many who fear his conservative roots may interfere with his ability to act fairly as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.
“I will confront injustice by leading a professional Justice Department that is free from politics; that is uncompromisingly fair; a department defined by integrity and dedicated to upholding the rule of law,” Ashcroft said upon his confirmation.
In a January report, the American Civil Liberties Union described Ashcroft as someone who “supports major erosion … of our democracy.”
“John Ashcroft’s record demonstrates that he is willing to change the law to impose his particular religious and moral views on all Americans,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington Office. “Integrity in pursuit of such a goal is no virtue.”
Gale Norton, who also received a hostile reception in the Senate, is expected to undergo similar scrutiny during her first weeks at the Interior Department.
“Unless Congress and the public hold her feet to the fire, Gale Norton as Interior secretary will be a natural disaster,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope. “We applaud the senators who voted against Norton to protect America’s wildlands for our families and for our futures.”
Democrats and environmental groups who opposed Norton’s confirmation said they would monitor her progress closely.
“I take Ms. Norton at her word and expect that she will honor her commitments,” said Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) the highest-ranking Democrat on the panel that approved the Norton nomination.
“I sincerely hope she will justify the trust placed in her by the Senate,” Bingaman said.
The Sierra Club’s Pope said they felt a responsibility to illuminate Norton’s “radical record” on the environment.
“Norton’s nomination is a giant reward to the oil, gas and mining industries that funded President Bush’s campaign,” Pope said. “This election was no mandate to pillage our public lands.”